Sarah Wallis

Poet & Playwright

recent publications

How The Pearl Became Feline Utopia Anthology, April 2021

Moonlighting Hencroft Hub Journal, April 2021

The Bluest Blue (pdf) The Mark Literary Review, April 2021

Edgelands (pdf) The Mark Literary Review, April 2021

After the Class Fragmented Voices Feb 2021

Remem...

Medusa Retold was published on Dec 1st!

A feminist retelling of the Medusa myth, set in a run-down, modern seaside town, Medusa Retold is filled with the magic and fury of the original tale. In this telling, loner Nuala is difficult and introverted, fascinated by creatures of the sea. Athena bec...

On Not Entering Any Competitions This Year (04/03/21)

I’ve seen a number of people on social media commenting on the rising price of competition entry for writer’s prizes, for poetry in particular, but also for flash and for pamphlet/ collections you pay even more. I understand that they have their costs to set up, run and give prizes and publication but some of them seem to be getting ridiculous. I’ve seen a number lately asking £20 entry fee or over (£28 and £36 per entry were the worst). Are they pricing their target market out of the field? Who is able to pay all these fees? Wouldn’t it be a better idea to reduce the fees and encourage more people to enter?

Surely once you get over a certain price point a lot of these entries are coming from people with a similar background, those that can afford to pay. Or they can’t, actually, and have realised that spending almost £400 a year on entry fees is not a good use of money just because they have a Paypal account. Entering competitions can be addictive and if you are also chasing the #100rejections challenge an easy way to raise your numbers of submissions. There are hundreds of competitions out there all wanting your money and I just feel the need to step off the merry go round for a year, I know all those competitions will still be there next year but taking a step back now to re-consider my approach to getting my work published seems like a good idea.

Maybe one or two entries at £20 wouldn’t break the bank but what about the poets and storywriters trying to get their work out there on a regular basis? One year I worked out I spent £368 on competition fees alone, it’s addictive and running out in small amounts over a whole year it can be hard to keep track of it all. After that year I kept a budget and tried to stick to £100 for the year but even when you are aware of it, it’s still difficult, particularly when you can reach that £100 limit in less than six months.

Going back over ten years or so of competition entries to look at the kind of results I’ve had is sobering when you think about how much all those entries added up cost. I have had a handful of successes been longlisted, shortlisted, published in anthologies, second place a couple of times but never won anything outright - nothing to warrant spending all that money and I think I need to accept that my work just doesn’t do very well in competition. I used to think it would and remember attending various poetry workshops at literature festivals like Ilkley and York with particular poems and people would say – that’s a competition winner, you should definitely send that out, and I did. Well, the best one of those poems ever did was to get placed second. Of course I was delighted at the time and the £300 second place prize money was very welcome - I put it towards a new computer. But it’s not a great record and doesn’t very often lead to publication, which if that’s the goal needs to be re-thought.

So I decided I wouldn’t enter any competitions this year at all, my budget is zero.

It’s been quite hard to stick to already and it’s only March. There are a lot of enticing, exciting sounding competitions around and it would be very cool to have the chance of my work published here or there, to be read by such a judge or win a national competition, only, realistically I know it’s not going to happen and I can’t afford it. What has helped me stick to it so far is opening up a submissions webpage and going ‘HOW MUCH?’ when I see the rising entry fees year on year and then immediately close the page again.

Normally I will do all the big competitions each year and it’s always exciting when the results come out because, well, you never know... There are a number out there now that look tempting to enter, they have themes that speak to me or there’s a particular judge I’d like to read my work. However, on the upside it will be very nice not to have work tied up for months on end because it’s in competition and you can’t send the work elsewhere. Many of the poems I have first sent to competition and had tied up for long stretches of time, have now found homes with respected journals and their readers, sometimes years later because I wouldn’t send out simultaneous submissions either, which in itself is another subject. In fact I’ve had far more success with getting my work out there by sending poems and stories to journals than to competitions, a bonus of sending to journals is that they also get back to you a lot faster than a competition.

This started as a personal resolution but it seems to have resonated with the submitters on social media and some have suggestions as to how competition organisers could improve things for their submitters:

  • Keep entry fees under £10
  • adopting a pay what you feel model - this is something that has become more common in lockdown especially for attending poetry events online
  • more low income slots - many places do some of these but not enough and they need to make it easier to access one of those slots, people are shy of taking them up and some of us on low incomes work and don’t get benefits so it’s more difficult/embarrassing to prove we are on a low wage.
  • give more for the fee - e.g. feedback/ copy of the anthology / magazine subscription/ even stickers (who doesn’t love stickers) etc

All good suggestions but just for now, for me this year I’m only submitting to print journals and online to see how it goes, perhaps in the end I won’t miss submitting to all those competitions at all and if I do they will still be there to enter next year. I also have around x12 submissions to hear back from last year so you never know... (except I probably do!)

poetry

poet

Art is by Immy Smith, who translated a couple of lines of text from my poem Poet & Fox (published in the Ways to Peace anthology, which marked the 2019 United Nations Day of Peace celebrations) into Morse code. She then transcribed the dots and dashes into a fox face shape as shown in her...

Sarah Wallis is a poet & playwright based in Scotland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and an Mphil in Playwriting from Birmingham University. Theatrical residencies include Leeds Playhouse and Harrogate Theatre. Current stagework includes Laridae – see trailer – and work for Leeds Fr...

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